Oil wells worked with American machinery at Yanangyet, Burma
Photographer: Underwood and Underwood
Medium: Photographic print
Stereoscopic pair of photographs taken by Underwood & Underwood in c.1900 of drilling rigs on the oil fields at Yenangyat in Burma (Myanmar). Oil was the most valuable mineral product in Burma and the oil fields produced paraffin wax, illuminating oil and petrol for export. A caption printed on the reverse of the mount describes the scene: “We are at Yanangyet, 325 miles from Rangoon…You might think you were in southern Pennsylvania, for these derricks look just like what you would see there. And, in fact, these drilled wells are worked on the American or cable system with modern machinery. The richest oil-bearing tract of Burma is the Irrawaddy valley, which has three centres, Singu, Yenangyaung, and this field at Yanangyet. There appear to be no natural reservoirs filled with oil but it occurs in soft sandy banks from which it filtrates slowly into the wells sunk into the bed. These fields were worked by natives as early as the middle of the eighteenth century but modern appliances were not introduced till 1889. The Burma Oil Company carries on a series of regular borings. From the works the oil is piped to tanks on the river bank, whence it is pumped into specially constructed flats or tanks. These are towed by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company steamers to Rangoon. The total production of oil in Burma is 85,000,000 gallons annually. A pipe line has recently been laid from this field and Sungu to Yenangyaung, 48 miles south. It is, in time, to be continued to Rangoon. This is a far cry from the day when native workmen dug wells and carried the oil in earthenware vessels to the river bank to be poured one by one into the holds of boats.” The prints are from a collection of 36 stereoscopic views of Burma, one of a series of “stereoscopic tours” of foreign countries published as part of the ‘Underwood Travel Library’. Stereoscopic views became enormously popular from the mid-19th century onward as they enabled observers to imagine that they were really “touring” around distant parts of the world. Each pair of views, made using a special camera with two lenses, is mounted on stout card for insertion in a stereoscope or binocular viewer. This device produces the illusion of a single three-dimensional image in the mind of the observer by using the binocular function of human sight to combine the two images, which are seen from fractionally different viewpoints. The prints in this set are generally of high quality and selected for their clarity and instructive value.